Welcome to the fourth installment of Meet Annabelle Adams. If you have not yet read chapters 1-3, you can find them by clicking on the list to the right.
Over the next few days, Annabelle did nothing but wash dishes.
“Really?” said Annabelle as the ninja stood there watching. “Is this the best use of my time?”
The ninja didn’t answer. He didn’t have to. The mountain of dishes spoke for itself.
Annabelle spent the next eleven minutes scrubbing indescribable gunk out of a cast-iron skillet until she couldn’t stand it for a second longer.
“Is this some kind of test? Are you trying to teach me discipline or the power of persistence or that sort of thing? Because I already have incredible discipline! I am already quite persistent!”
Again, the ninja didn’t answer. He stood by silently and watched. His face was like a statue’s face. Almost. Occasionally, his eyebrow twitched a little.
“Did you guys have a really big party or something?” asked Annabelle, who was trying to figure out where all the dirty plates, glasses, forks, and frying pans could have come from. “Was every ninja in the world in attendance?”
“Yes. We had a really big party.”
Annabelle turned. Standing in the doorway was a boy about her age. He looked as if he might have a cold.
“And almost every ninja in the world was in attendance,” said the boy. “It was Ninja’s birthday. He has a lot of friends.”
“Oh,” said Annabelle, who had to agree that the ninja was a likable fellow.
“Annabelle,” said Annabelle, drying her hands and reaching out her hand for a shake.
But the boy did not reach back.
“You are supposed to be training,” said Floyd.
“I know!” said Annabelle. “Tell that to the ninja!”
“First of all, his name is Ninja. And he’s a ninja. Please call him Ninja. Second, Ninja has spent the past three days telling you to stop washing dishes so that he can get started with your training. He finally came and got me, even though I am very busy doing extremely important things.”
“He hasn’t said anything! Not one word!”
“Clearly you don’t know how to speak Ninja,” said Floyd with exasperation. Annabelle had the sense that Floyd said everything with exasperation.
“I guess I don’t,” said Annabelle.
Floyd gave the loudest possible sigh. “I’ll translate. Ninja, what do you want to say to Annabelle?”
The ninja said nothing. Maybe one of his eyebrows moved a little.
Floyd turned to Annabelle. “Ninja says he’d like you to please stop washing dishes and to go into the dojo immediately.”
Annabelle was relieved. But also a little irritated. In her opinion, Ninja could have tried a bit harder to say this three days ago.
Annabelle started to say so, but apparently, Ninja wasn’t done. One of his nostrils flared just a little and then Floyd said, “And he wants to tell you that he’s pretty frustrated because he had come up with a detailed training plan and now it’s totally messed up.”
“But—!” said Annabelle.
Floyd held up his hand and glared. “Don’t interrupt Ninja!”
Ninja’s right ear wiggled slightly and his eyebrows bunched together in the tiniest way.
“Ninja is also excited because he has recently developed a brand new move, and he really wants to teach it to you if there’s still time. Also, he really hopes you’ll try a little harder to pay attention moving forward.”
“OK,” said Annabelle, whose head was full of words she couldn’t say out loud.
“The new move is called the Triple Jimbo,” said Floyd, almost smiling for a second. “He says it’s a game changer.”
“How does it work?”
“You are here to follow orders, not ask questions!” said Floyd, definitely not smiling again. “Get to the dojo!”
Annabelle went. Even though a small part of her wanted to stay there and argue with Floyd, the much bigger part wanted to learn the Triple Jimbo.
Over the next eleven hours, Annabelle learned how to kick, punch, block, leap, and evade. Ninja kept showing her moves, and Annabelle kept mastering them almost instantly.
She was pretty sure Ninja was impressed.
“Not bad—right, Ninja?” said Annabelle, who suddenly felt comfortable referring to Ninja on a first-name basis.
“He says you did all right,” said Floyd, who seemed to have a bad habit of showing up without knocking or saying hello.
“Was that an exact translation?” asked Annabelle, who was pretty convinced Ninja would have used a more flattering adjective.
Floyd said nothing and offered Annabelle a glass of water and a slice of stale bread.
“Don’t you have any fresh bread?”
“We do,” said Floyd, but his expression made it clear that Annabelle wasn’t going to be offered any.
Annabelle locked eyes with Floyd, daring him to look away first. She had never lost a staring contest, and this one was no different. Floyd lasted a few seconds before pretending to be busy fiddling with some sort of device that was looped into his belt.
“Eat,” he said.
Annabelle ate. She was still hungry after but had a feeling she wouldn’t be getting seconds.
“Well, Ninja, shall we continue?” asked Annabelle.
“Quiet!” snapped Floyd. “Ninja is sleeping.”
Annabelle looked. Ninja was still standing where he had been, but his eyes were now closed.
“Sorry!” whispered Annabelle.
“Amateur,” muttered Floyd under his breath before sighing as loudly as he could and saying, “Come with me.”
Floyd twisted the ear of a wooden statue of a three-headed monkey god, and when he did, part of the wall slid open, revealing an elevator that took them down and down for a very long time.
When the doors opened, Annabelle found herself in a vast room full of computers and workstations and huge, robotic arms.
“Wow,” said Annabelle.
“Appropriate reaction,” said Floyd, who seemed sort of halfway pleasant for the first time since Annabelle had met him. “This is where the magic happens.”
“I want to see everything,” said Annabelle.
“You will see a few things,” snapped Floyd, “And you will touch nothing!”
Floyd led Annabelle to a huge screen on the far end of the room. He pushed a button, and a man’s face appeared—a short, bald, wicked-looking man with a lean sneer, outrageous eyebrows, monocle, and weird beard.
“Weird beard,” said Annabelle.
“I know, right?” said Floyd, sort of halfway friendly for just a moment before getting very serious again. “This is the notorious Dr. Fungo, engineer of disaster, crusher of joy, bringer of darkest doom. Get to know him well. He will try hard to destroy you.”
Annabelle couldn’t tear her eyes from the screen. Everything about Fungo reeked of evil.
“Why are you showing me this?”
“Because Fungo must be stopped.”
“Is he responsible for the angry cats?”
“We don’t know for sure.”
“But you suspect?”
“Because who else would do such a hideous thing?”
Annabelle couldn’t think of anyone else.
“First, we have to figure out what’s wrong with the cats. Presumably, he’s controlling them somehow.”
“It could be some sort of mind-control device, or a chip implanted in their brains, or a serum injected into their tiny cat hearts.”
“Or . . .” Annabelle’s mind chewed on the problem, “. . . perhaps he sent an army of henchmen to tell them lies that have enraged them.”
“Cats don’t speak English.”
“Mine does,” said Annabelle, who was convinced Ellen understood every word she said.
“Regardless, the point is that we don’t know what’s going on.”
“And that’s where I come in?”
Floyd paused for a second before saying, “Yes, that’s where you come in.” It was clear to Annabelle that this thought made Floyd unhappy, but before she had the chance to ask him why, there was a sound like the end of the world. An angry alarm went off, and bright red lights flashed crazily.
“NOOOOOOO!” said Floyd.
“What’s happening?” said Annabelle.
“We’re under attack! Come with me,” said Floyd, rushing back to the elevator.
“But what about that?” said Annabelle, pointing to a sign that said Do not use elevator in the event of an attack. Trust me. It’s a terrible idea.
“Darn it. You’re right,” said Floyd. “Let’s use the stairs.”
The stairway glowed red as emergency lights flashed. Even though Annabelle knew she should be scared and worried and unprepared for what she would find at the top of the stairs, she found herself feeling exactly the opposite.